Effects of fast-food on health

Dr. Zeerak Attari

Our body is a wonderous creation of Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ. With billions of chemical reactions and processes taking place inside us, keeping us alive, human beings are truly a microcosm of the greater cosmos and one way to show gratitiude for this wonderous bounty is taking care of it and being mindful of what we put into it. To help you, we have put together this quick guide to healthy eating and the health risks of fast food.

Our body needs energy from food to function properly. On average an adult male requires approximately 2500 kcal per day (2000 kcal for females) to sustain life. Too much of anything is harmful and the same applies to calories. Our contemporary fast food culture has given way to overconsumption of calories, overloading our body with excessive energy which is very harmful.

Balanced diet

To be able to fully understand the harmful effects of fast food, we first need to understand the balanced diet. A balanced diet contains six key nutrient groups that are required in appropriate amounts for good health. These groups are:

*   Proteins – needed for muscle growth and repair and general maintenance of the body.

*   Carbohydrates - usually the main energy source for the body.

*   Fats - a rich source of energy, key components of cell membranes, and signalling molecules, and as myelin they insulate nerve cells.

*   Vitamins - important in a range of biochemical reactions.

*   Minerals - important in maintaining ionic balances and many biochemical reactions.

*   Water - is crucial to life. Metabolic reactions occur in an aqueous (watery) environment and water acts as a solvent for other molecules to dissolve in.

*   Fibre is a component of food that is not nutritious but is important to include in our diet. Fibre or roughage is non-digestible carbohydrate and is important for the movement of food through the gut.

A deficiency or excess of any one type of these nutrients can lead to disease, starvation (or dehydration in the case of water), and subsequent death. 

What is fast food?

Although a wide variety of food can be cooked fast, ‘fast food’ is a commercial term limited to food sold in restaurants and similar outlets. It is often made from frozen, preheated, or precooked ingredients. Fast food is often highly processed and prepared in an industrial fashion, i.e., on a large scale with standard ingredients and standardized cooking and production methods. It is usually rapidly served so as to minimize costs.

In most fast food operations, menu items are generally made from processed ingredients prepared at a central supply facility and then shipped frozen to individual outlets where they are reheated or cooked (usually by microwave or deep frying) in a short amount of time. Because of commercial emphasis on quickness, uniformity and low cost, fast food products are often made with ingredients formulated to achieve a certain flavour or consistency.

The traditional family dinner is increasingly being replaced by the consumption of fast food. In 2018, the fast food industry was worth an estimated $570 billion globally.

Harmful effects of fast food

Fast food has been linked to heart disease, bowel cancer, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression. A study from Jeddah found that current fast-food habits are related to obesity among adolescents in Saudi Arabia. In 2014, the World Health Organization published a study which claimed that deregulated food markets are largely to blame for the obesity crisis and suggested tighter regulations to reverse the trend. In the United States, local governments are restricting fast food chains by limiting the number of restaurants found in certain geographical areas.

Effect on the digestive and cardiovascular systems

Most fast food, including drinks and sides, are loaded with carbohydrates with little to no fibre. When your digestive system breaks down these foods, the carbohydrates are released as glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. As a result, your blood sugar spikes. Your pancreas responds to the surge in glucose by releasing insulin. Insulin transports sugar throughout your body to cells that need it for energy. As your body uses or stores the sugar, your blood sugar returns to normal.

This blood sugar process is highly regulated by your body, and as long as you’re healthy, your organs can effectively handle these sugar spikes. But frequently eating high amounts of carbs can lead to repeated spikes in your blood sugar levels. Over time, these insulin spikes can cause your body’s normal insulin response to falter. This increases your risk for insulin resistancetype 2 diabetes, and weight gain.

Sugar and fat

Many fast food meals have added sugar. Not only does that mean extra calories, but also little nutrition. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests only eating 100 to 150 calories of added sugar per day. That’s about six to nine teaspoons. Many fast food drinks alone hold 140 calories, 39 grams of sugar, and no other nutrients.

Trans fat is a dietary fat, manufactured during food processing. It’s commonly found in fried pies, pastries, pizza dough, crackers, and cookies. It is the worst type of fat for your health and no amount of it is good or healthy. Trans fat increases your LDL (bad cholesterol), lowers your HDL (good cholesterol), and increases your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


The combination of fat, sugar, and lots of sodium (salt) can enhance the flavour of fast food but diets high in sodium can lead to water retention, which is why you may feel puffy, bloated, or swollen after eating fast food. A diet high in sodium is also dangerous for people with blood pressure conditions. Sodium can elevate blood pressure and put stress on your heart and cardiovascular system.

Effect on the respiratory system

Excess calories from fast food meals can cause weight gain which can exacerbate and lead to obesity. Obesity increases your risk of respiratory problems, including asthma and shortness of breath. The extra pounds can put pressure on your heart and lungs, and symptoms may show up even with little exertion. You may notice difficulty breathing when you’re walking, climbing stairs, or exercising.

Effect on the Bones

Carbohydrates and sugar in fast food and processed food can increase acids in your mouth. These acids can break down tooth enamel. As tooth enamel disappears, bacteria can take hold, causing cavities in teeth.

Obesity can also lead to complications with bone density and muscle mass. People who are obese have a greater risk for falling and breaking bones. It’s important to keep exercising to build muscles, which support your bones, and maintain a healthy diet to minimize bone loss.

Take action

This article has informed you about some of the health dangers of fast food. Information alone however, is not enough; we must take active steps to safeguard our health and well-being.

Educating our children about the health-risks of fast food is crucial. Mothers play an especially crucial role in this regard and must inculcate healthy eating habits in their children. In addition, she must be able to prepare tasty dishes from healthy ingredients so that children do not resort to fast food.

Steaming and grilling should replace deep frying and fruit should be made an essential component of our daily diet.




Security Code